“Never let a good crisis go to waste”

-Winston Churchill 

With 64% of B2B online buyers shifting their gears to the digital medium, COVID-19 has led to a paradigm shift in B2B customer expectations and their shopping behavior. This unforeseen disruption that resulted from the pandemic, witnessed the B2B ecosystem adapting new ways of operations to strengthen the footprint. 

Accenture’s North America CEO Jimmy Etheredge notes that this disruption has uprooted most of the traditional business operations, making New Normal the perfect phase to invest in digital transformation for a brighter future. Moreover, as 30% of the customers are reportedly planning to change their suppliers, now is the time for you to up your game in the competitive market. 

With 2020 reaching its near end, stay alert to those trends that are going to be in full swing in 2021 in all likelihood. The ripples of changing customer expectations that the New Normal brought about can be felt in the B2B dynamics, pushing you towards a quicker digital transformation.   

Top 5 Shifts in B2B Customer Expectations Amidst New Normal

1. Ease in Shopping Experience 

As COVID-19 brought about a wide exposure into the eCommerce spectrum, customer’s expectations from your online storefront have definitely grown. With B2C eCommerce gaining a strong footing in recent years, B2B customers are also expecting a similar shopping experience.

B2B customer experience

Digital commerce results in customers expecting direct interaction for a frictionless purchase. Customers are on the look-out for a well-defined product assortment to fasten up their operations. So, it’s better to start from the grass-root level by providing a familiar B2C experience that could be easily adopted in your B2B operations. This, in turn, generates the ‘carrot effect’, letting your customers be familiar with the new digital space.  

Customers are increasingly demanding quick-click ways to look through information. Make sure you provide accurate and real-time status on pricing, inventory, and many others since the customer’s attention level is decelerating. 

2. Space for Automation 

Despite the pandemic impacting almost all sectors, it has given way for innovation in the B2B spectrum. Digitization is making room for incorporating AI, Machine Learning, VR, and other digital technologies, enhancing customer service and support. 

According to Pardot’s analysis of B2B marketing trends, 35% of marketers face difficulties in evaluating customer journeys across multiple channels. But this is made easier through AI, Analytics, and Machine Learning. Enhanced customer services come to place, enriching their satisfaction. 

Similarly, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are slowly finding their way into B2B operations. B2B customers also favor the online storefronts that ease all the touchpoints of their journey. Incorporating such innovative digital tools can be a win-win for both parties.

Through engaging marketing presentations and 3D visualization of product prototypes, these innovative technologies strengthen customer engagement. With the New Normal shifting the dynamics of customer expectations, it’s imperative to leverage digital tools to meet their increasing demands. 

3. Personalization

Personalization has always been the forte of B2C brands. But B2B customers have also begun to look for a personal touch in their shopping experience. Retaining your existing customers is crucial for survival in the post-pandemic phase for recapturing your growth from the pre-pandemic period.

B2B customers expect personalization

Offering personalized sales easily becomes one of the creative commercial strategies. With 84% of B2B customers expecting them to be treated as humans rather than numbers in this data-driven environment, Salesforce research projects the need for a personal touch in B2B sales.

With AI-driven product recommendations gaining more fandom among consumers, many businesses have adopted the strategy to cover up the slight dip faced during the COVID-19 crisis. Also, the execution of AI-based predictive segmentation is all set to surge amidst the New Normal.  

Marketing strategies have shifted from ‘getting the message right’ to ‘just in time’ personalization where you must assess your recovery time, while also analyzing the data of shopping behavior existing before the pandemic. 

4. Seamless Operations Across Multiple Channels

As pandemic opened doors for customers to ease their buying behavior, the eCommerce shopping experience became the deciding factor, setting the benchmark for your online performance. They expect a faultless purchase journey across multiple channels and devices, ranging from eCommerce stores to mobile apps.

B2B customer expectations include seamless operationsIn the customer-centric eCommerce sector, omnichannel and multichannel operations will be the norm in the New Normal. Enhancing agility of your B2B operations is equally significant to improve your interaction with customers who are working remotely with a higher probability of using multiple devices than in the traditional working space. 

With the in-person meetings gradually hitting on an all-time low, develop a virtual strategy while also analyzing the volume of purchase efforts put in through portals, mobile apps, or social media. 

5. Promise Outweighs Price

Post-COVID scenario mostly thrives on revamping your business from its hassles and starting afresh. Rekindling the trust among your existing customers is equally crucial while exploring ways to woo new customers. Previous shopping experience and the promise that you make in catering to their needs are valued more than the price of the products.

According to the Forrester research, B2B customers are willing to pay more for the brands that have already established a good customer relationship. During this unprecedented crisis, the customer’s engagement with your business stems from trust and loyalty rather than the price you offer. 

The pandemic period saw qualitative elements overpowering the quantitative ones, and it can continue through the New Normal and post-pandemic phase. The way you carried out your operations during this trying time also instills expectations in your brand.  

Compared to the B2C sphere, B2B customers are keener on analyzing the expertise and problem-solving skills in your enterprise, mainly because of the sheer volume of purchase involved. Here, the promise of the unparalleled customer experience that you deliver and the productive result that you showcase will lead to a lingering effect among your customers. 

With that being said, 2021 is all set to welcome us. Let’s see what the new year has in store for you.

What to Expect in 2021?

Astute Digitization

Despite digital transformation being underway in the B2B sector, the pandemic has sped things up. With the 2021 State of IT report underlying the impact COVID-19 has on businesses, digitization takes up unparalleled place in 2021 with 76% of the enterprises planning to go digital in the coming year. 

The B2B ventures are predicted to spend more on cloud services, productivity software, and developer tools to match with the pressing demand for digitization. Since the pandemic has accelerated remote operations, B2B buyers are increasingly depending on digital space to carry out their research.

Digitization is imperative in 2021Counting on this shift, the year ahead will witness an upsurge in the allocation of B2B tech budgets bringing about great opportunities for B2B marketers to adapt to the changing trends in shopping behavior. This shift will also see the blurring of the overall strategy and digital strategy, which were earlier considered mutually exclusive. 

Scope for Increased Customer Interaction

The fast-paced digital spectrum raises the customer’s expectations for quick responses from your side. Shockingly so, the average response time for any customer service request is 12 hours and 10 minutes to be precise, while the customers expect your response within an hour.

But 2021 is gearing up to change this concern for the better. Live chat is expected to gain more momentum in the following year, strengthening the real-time interaction. With the American Marketing Association projecting the potential of live chats in increasing the conversion rates by 20%, B2B operations can expand its horizon by deploying this emerging trend. 

Along with the hybrid chatbot, other customer-facing tools like comparison engines can be put in place to enhance timely interaction. By providing relevant information and aiding comparison of your product data, customer facing tools will aid a human touch to the digital experience that you offer.

Dependency on Sales Intelligence Tools

With the New Normal paving way to revamp your business operations, looking at ways to improve your eCommerce journey is imperative. One such way is to leverage the sales intelligence tools that would help you recognize, track, and communicate with your customers. Data and automation are the heart and soul of these tools that facilitate demand prediction. 

Additionally, the sales intelligence tool can guide content marketing since it gives an insight into the exact type of content that strikes a chord with your potential leads. This way, content can be created which the customers are on a lookout for. The B2B sales cycle can be significantly improved in the coming years with adequate use of sales intelligence tools that make targeting easier. 

By making use of marketing intelligence and competitive intelligence, sales intelligence tools can also identify the right prospects. Through effective automation and streamlining of data points, sales intelligence tools can carry out operations at a faster rate.

Inventive Marketing Strategies

While the COVID-19 made customer retention a primary concern than customer acquisition, this practice is expected to continue in 2021 as well. With the pandemic increasing the duration that customers spend online, there has been a shift in the way they search about products and brands. Since this shift is here to stay, marketing strategies will also see a similar shift.

Right marketing strategy cannot be overlooked

Up your game with the proper use of interactive content including branded games, branded videos, contests, and content hubs. Even though semantic searches have been popular, there is scope for a potential surge as voice search is strengthening its foothold. 

With a recorded 85% increase in contextual searches in recent years, the numbers see an upward inclination, keeping up with the current trend. Automated bidding in Google Ads and social media marketing are all set to witness their heydays in 2021. Moreover, concentrating on PPC automation and Responsive Search Ads is also expected to yield better results in the coming year.  

What’s the Next Step?

Each crisis pushes you to retrospect or even reconsider the way you work. 2020 was such a year that led you out of your comfort zones. As the world of eCommerce witnessed a humongous shift, the impact it had on shopping behavior is unparalleled. 

With this shift here to stay, aligning your B2B eCommerce store to meet your customer’s expectations is more necessary than ever. The strong footprint that DCKAP holds in the digital commerce spectrum helped distributors and manufacturers carve a niche in the B2B eCommerce space despite the adversities that the pandemic threw at us. 

The end-to-end eCommerce service that we provide has paved the way for satisfied clients who stand as a testimony to the promise that we fulfill. Our expertise that stems from 15+ years of experience in eCommerce eases the digital transformation journey that would aid you to host an optimized online storefront that will sail through innovations and emerging trends.

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